Book review: James Blish – Mission to the Heart Stars

Short YA novel, a sequel to “the Star Dwellers”. I found that I could read and enjoy this book without having read the first one, as there’s enough backstory worked into it that new readers aren’t left floundering. It’s set in a relatively near future, not long after mankind has first developed an interstellar drive and made contact with other intelligent species. One of those species is an energy-based lifeform which has been around since the Big Bang, but which is nevertheless culturally compatible with humans. The Angels have sponsored humans for membership in another galactic culture, one that is short-lived by the standards of the Angels, but still remarkably long-lived and stable by human standards. So long-lived that even having the normal probationary membership period cut in half at the Angels’ urging means waiting 50,000 years for full membership.

Naturally, some politicians are too impatient to wait. And so begins the mission to the Heart Stars, a journey to the heart of the empire to ask in person for immediate full membership. Along the way, the crew of the diplomatic mission ship see exactly how that peaceful, prosperous stability is achieved.

The book has a reasonable balance of engineering and social commentary. The science behind the faster-than-light drive is pseudo-science, but it’s the sort that’s extrapolated from real physics and internally consistent, not pure plot-devicium powered. It’s a little too overtly preachy, but that’s largely a result of it being a YA book written in the mid 60s. I’m not sure I’ll keep it any longer, but it’s a book I enjoyed enough that I’ve read it more than once.

LibraryThing entry
Mission to the Heart Stars (A Panther book) on Amazon UK
Mission to the Heart Stars on Amazon US
at Powell’s


14 thoughts on “Book review: James Blish – Mission to the Heart Stars

    1. I may well have read it once as a young teenager, but I don’t remember it other than having read “Surface Tension” in other collections.

      I’ve just finished re-reading Galactic Cluster for the first time in several years, and thoroughly enjoyed most of it. The opening sequence of Common Time has always stuck in my mind — it’s such a wonderful description of of the time variation.

    1. The aliens would work in a different story, but it’s as if he’s mashed two stories into one, and it just doesn’t work.

      I’ve just had a look at your review of Galactic Cluster, and was interested to see that your edition has a different selection of stories to mine. Mine has Common Time, A Work of Art, To Pay the Piper, Nor Iron Bars, Beep, and Beanstalk.

    1. Mine’s the 190 edition by Granada of the UK edition first published in 1960 by Faber&Faber — or so it says on the title page.

      Ah — Wikipedia has this to say:

      Galactic Cluster (stories, Signet, 1959) – Containing among others “Beep”, “Common Time” and “Nor Iron Bars”. The book version of the last story combines “Detour to the Stars” (1956) and “Nor Iron Bars” (1957). The 1960 UK hardback removes three stories from the Signet edition and adds “Beanstalk” (1952); the 1963 UK paperback edition removes three stories from the Signet edition (only two of the three are the same as those removed for the 1960 variation); the 1980 UK paperback uses the 1963 contents and adds “Beanstalk”.

    1. I liked it a *lot* when I first read it as a young teenager. When I grew up and got a job and could buy my own copy, I still liked it a lot. The last time I read it I found that parts of it had dated to the point where it was a lot less fun to read. I’d actually agree with most of the reviews on the LibraryThing entry, both good and bad.

  1. Ehhh, “dated” doesn’t really bother me. I mean, no one in the 50s knew what computers would look like in the 21st century ;)

    You are probably referring to Blish’s political commentary (or perhaps views of women)…

    1. All of the above, plus the science has dated as well.

      None of which will necessarily bother me about any particular story, and even when it does, it may be that I find the dated views actively unpleasant, or may be that they just break suspension of disbelief by reminding me how long ago the book was written. It’s mostly the latter for Blish’s work.

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